Some of our favorite boondocking spots are in the desert. The sunsets in the desert are unbeatable, and the weather for dry camping in the southwest during fall and spring is excellent. Even winter is pleasant in many parts of the Southwest!
All that said, dry camping in the desert does require a certain level of preparedness, as well as some important bits of information. By using the tips and tricks below, you can head into your desert dry camping trip with confidence, knowing you will be able to enjoy this magical place in comfort and safety while having an amazing time.
Find the Perfect Desert Camping Spot
Before you set out, you will want to have the perfect desert dry camping spot picked out. There are tons of awesome campsites to be found in the desert. BLM land is a great start, and there are even some national forests located within desert regions.
Camp on High Ground
The desert may not get much rain, but when it does get rain, it’s often all at once. Water from these downpours tends to make its way into washes—spots that, to the untrained eye, might look like an excellent place to camp. Avoid washes and other low spots, and head to high ground when camping in the desert to avoid problems with flooding.
Know When to Go
As is the case with any boondocking location, there is a good time and a bad time to go dry camping in the desert. We mentioned above that we love spring and fall in the southwestern deserts. Winter desert dry camping can also be lovely, especially in Arizona and Southern California.
Generally speaking, you want to avoid dry camping in the desert during the summer months, as the sun is just too hot to handle in a van, especially without air conditioning.
Ensure Your Vehicle Can Handle the Terrain
You’ll have to drive on some pretty rough roads in order to get to many of the public lands in the desert. Make sure your vehicle is properly equipped for the drive. Four-wheel drive is recommended, and you definitely don’t want a vehicle that sits low to the ground.
If you’re unsure whether your vehicle will be able to reach a campsite, try reading reviews for clues, and always turn around if a road looks iffy.
Carry Tools, Fuel, a Tow Rope, and Spare Parts
No matter how carefully you drive, if you go out often enough and stay out long enough, you’re bound to get stuck, have a tire blow out, or have something on your van break at some point during your desert dry camping adventures. This is why it’s important to carry tools, extra fuel, a tow rope, spare tires, spare parts, and anything else you might need to fix a problem on your vehicle.
Because dry camping in the desert can take you to some pretty remote locations, it’s not at all unusual to find yourself with no cell signal. Because of this, it’s definitely a good idea to download offline navigation (the RV Life app works for this) and carry a paper map. If you plan on overlanding or going way out in the sticks, having a really good wilderness GPS app like Gaia GPS is a great resource to have.
Pack a Source of Shade
Much of the desert is wide open without any shade to speak of. Carrying a tent, canopy, or awning to create your own shade will ensure you can comfortably hang outside even when the sun is shining bright.
Make Use of Solar Panels
The strong sunlight and absence of shade can be bothersome in some regards but also advantageous in others. Prior to embarking on your desert boondocking excursion, it’s advisable to install solar panels on your van to fully capitalize on the sun. Alternatively, you may opt for a portable power station equipped with portable solar panels. These systems necessitate no extra wiring and essentially offer a plug-and-play solution.
If you need to have internet access while out dry camping in the desert, Starlink is an excellent solution. We have found that Starlink works absolutely perfectly in the desert thanks to the complete lack of obstructions, meaning we get speedy fast internet even when sitting in the middle of nowhere surrounded by cacti.
Protect Your Feet
Are you the type to walk around your campsite barefoot? We get it. Bare feet on the ground can be a wonderful feeling. Unfortunately, it’s not so wonderful when that ground happens to be covered in cacti and other pointy, pokey plants. Wear shoes and make sure your dog’s paws are protected as well.
Always Wear Sunscreen and a Hat
As mentioned above, the sun is bright in the desert, and shade is pretty hard to come by. For this reason, sunscreen and a hat are must-haves, especially when out hiking, climbing, or otherwise enjoying the outdoors in direct sunlight.
Prepare for Dry Weather
It’s no secret that the desert is a dry place. (That’s kinda its whole thing, right?) Therefore, you will want to be properly prepared for the dry weather. Pack plenty of extra drinking water, apply lip balm regularly, use eye drops as needed, and apply liberal amounts of lotion on your skin if it becomes dry.
Fight Off the Dust
Another thing you’ll need to deal with while dry camping in the desert? Dust. Dust is everywhere, and in some places, it’s so fine it seems to get into every nook and cranny.
We recommend keeping electronics in cases to protect them from dust. Putting an outdoor rug or tarp in front of your door and leaving out a bucket of water for rinsing off before walking inside can also be helpful. Once you leave the desert, be sure to change the air filters on vehicles as well as your generator.
Dress in Layers
When you think of the desert, you likely associate it with hot weather. And it’s true. The desert can indeed become scorching during the day. However, that heat dissipates rapidly after the sun sets. Even in late spring and summer, the temperatures in the late evening can be quite cold. Therefore, it is important to dress and pack appropriately.
Be Aware of Wildlife
The desert is full of little critters. Many of these are critters you don’t necessarily want to mess with, so be sure to watch your step, check your shoes before slipping them on, and avoid leaving things outside for wildlife to climb into. You’ll also want to make sure to put all food away to avoid attracting animals to your site.
If you do see an animal, be sure to give it plenty of space. Never approach or feed wildlife.
And there you have it – our tips for an unforgettable dry camping experience in the desert. It’s time to venture out, embrace the wilderness, and create memories that will last a lifetime. But remember, the joy of adventure is even more fulfilling when shared. So why not inspire others? Take a moment to share this guide on your social media platforms. Encourage your friends to embark on their own desert adventure. Happy camping!